Vijeta fumbled in her bag for her cigarettes, keeping an eye out for Suni's arrival. She wouldn't be able to smoke indoors, so she was waiting outside the cafe. The sun was close to setting into the horizon, but surrounded by buildings, Vijeta had no way of knowing exactly where that confluence would happen. Just as she lit up and took a drag, Suni came to view, waving shyly, walking slowly towards her. Damn, thought Vijeta, hastily stubbing out. That was a total waste of perfectly good ciggie.
"Hey Suni, hi!" she beamed. "So good to see you here." The two women hugged and walked into the coffee bar. They placed their orders before they sat at a two-seater right in the centre, surrounded by noisy corporates just off from work. "So, how've you been doing?" began Vijeta, once they were settled. "It's been, what, three months since you arrived in Delhi?"
And so they discussed Suni's new job as a dentist in Max, her move from Hyderabad, and how her sister had put her in touch with Vijeta, to 'make friends with' in the big bad metro. Soon, as happens when women meet, the topic veered to men. "You're married, my sister told me," asked Suni, hesitantly. "I was," said Vijeta, not batting an eyelid. "Twice. Now I'm exploring other arrangements. What about you? You're single? Married? Seeing someone?"
Suni's eyes were wide open as she responded, "I'm single. No I've never been married. No I'm not seeing anyone. I never did." For a few moments both women looked at each other in equivalent surprise. "How old are you again?" frowned Vijeta.
"You're older than I am! And you've never been in a relationship, EVER?"
"No." Their eyes still locked, Vijeta's eyebrows shot up at Suni's slow response. "Why not?" she commanded, incredulous.
"Because I never found the right guy," offered Suni doubtfully, like she knew it was the wrong answer in a maths quiz.
"Honey, there IS no right guy," Vijeta let out a sigh and sat back. "You just have to make do with the wrong ones. Gosh. A virgin at forty!" She shook her head. She'd never encountered something like this before. A perfectly decent-looking woman too. Accomplished and brainy and all that. What was she thinking? The right guy? Yeah right.
Suni felt vaguely shameful. "What about you?" she asked the silence that had suddenly broken upon them. "Are you currently seeing someone?"
"Well, I have a friend with benefits at the moment. But no I'm not seeing anyone, not in the sense you mean."
Again silence, as Suni absorbed this. Seeing her squirm, Vijeta continued. "I was married eight years to the same guy once, and then two years to the next one. I'm trying to keep it simple now, you know. Focus on my work and my art and all that. Men are on the side, when the need arises."
Suni's next question popped out like a burp. "Where do you find all these men?" She was embarrassed immediately. But she looked at Vijeta's face expectantly, with savage curiosity, for a reaction.
"They're all over," dismissed Vijeta. "There's no shortage of them. If you have even the slightest need, they come crawling out of the woodwork. You're probably too focused on finding that 'perfect person' and all that. That's why you aren't considering the rest. Loosen up you know."
"I can't. I have all these moral issues," Suni said after a few thoughtful moments. "I've been brought up in a conservative way, focusing on my studies and then my medical practice. I kept thinking I'd only settle for the man who was equally qualified. And the next thing I knew, time had gone by and now I'm called a spinster. I don't like being here. It's lonely. I feel like I've missed on a lot. I pray every day for companionship."
Vijeta had a horrible urge to light up again, but she couldn't. "We're all lonely, darling," she said, and leaned across to look deeper into Suni's eyes. "Finding a man won't make you less lonely. It'll only distract you for a while before the devil strikes again. But even so, I'd rather keep myself open, you know. Morals shouldn't stop you from tasting all the different cuisines out there. Options. Possibilities. I like those words." She sat back again, and they stared at each other until the bill came.
They never met again. The new city swallowed Suni up in a whirlwind of patients and travel and timings. Vijeta went back to her day job, her men, her painting. But something changed after that day at the coffee shop. A string of each one's life force somehow connected to the heart of the other. Those few moments of soul-gazing gave them each a peek of the other side, a silent, humbling, exhilarating view of the unknown. It was like stepping to the edge of the precipice and pulling back. From what she'd never considered. What she'd never dreamt of.
From what she could have been.